World-first Australian rough sapphires auction a “big success”
Posted November 30, 2021, Jeweller Magazine
Australian jewellery supplier, SAMS Group managed to secure a large portion of rare sapphires at an international gemstone auction billed as the “world’s first and largest rough sapphire auction.”
FURA Gems conducted the auction that was held in Bangkok last week and offered more than 900,000 carats of “unique, rarely seen, only natural and untreated rough sapphires with a wide range of colours including blue, teal, green, parti and yellow.”
The roughs were sourced from Capricorn Sapphire and Great Northern Mining in central Queensland – all sapphires are mined from its mines in Anakie. According to the company’s announcement, the cumulative mining area is around 20-square kilometres, making FURA the largest international supplier of sapphires.
FURA’s sapphire production in 2021 has been 5.5 million carats.
SAMS Group Australia participated in the auction and CEO Steve Der Bedrossian said: “We were fortunate enough to acquire 28 of 95 (47%) lots amounting to more than 430,000 carats of ethically-sourced rough Australian sapphires that will be boomeranging its way back into Australia to satisfy our local jewellery industry.
We are pleased to bring back home Australia sapphires, produced from the Queensland gem-fields.”
SAMS Group recently launched Sapphire Dreams, a new range of branded Australian sapphire jewellery.
The event, which attracted attention from international companies, had been marketed extensively to the trade, and Dev Shetty, founder and CEO FURA Gems explained that it was a great success.
“We had an unbelievably great turnout. We were expecting 15-20 companies to participate, given the restrictions associated with the pandemic, but to our surprise, we got over 80 participation requests from companies in Bangkok, Australia, Sri Lanka, Canada and India. We could only allow 45 companies to participate in the first tender. The auction was a big success with 83 of the 95 lots being sold.”
He explained that the Bangkok auction was historic because it included graded, unheated rare colours in large quantities. “It presents a unique opportunity for the industry to explore different colours in sapphires on one single platform,” Shetty said. "Furthermore, FURA’s proprietary and robust color-grading initiative will benefit buyers with clarity on the value of the stones. This grading initiative addresses centuries-old anomalies in the trade, where Australian sapphires have seen little or no grading in the past."
The roughs were of particular interest to Der Bedrossian because of the guarantee to be Australian stones and therefore ethically sourced. “One of the special features of Australian sapphire is the amazing range of colours in which it occurs with every shade of blues greens and yellow being represented. “More importantly is its feature of well-developed colour banding with cut sapphires resulting in colour combinations such as teal blues, teal greens, yellow greens and green yellows as well as the much-loved parti sapphire or ‘wattle’ sapphires where two or more colours may be seen in a single cut stone,” Der Bedrossian said.
He believes these attributes make local sapphires one of the most interesting gemstones available to jewellers and jewellery consumers because, “when there is a distinct separation of colour the result is very special bi-colour sapphires.”
FURA claims that its Australian operation is “one of the most significant sapphire deposits in the century, bringing back the promise of the glorious late 20th century when the country accounted for over 90 per cent of the global sapphire supplies.” FURA’s Australian sapphire Central Queensland operations cover around 500 hectares of land at the Capricorn Sapphire site and 1,500 hectares at the Great Northern Mining site.
According to Der Bedrossian there is a trend for alternative engagement ring designs away from diamonds.“Australian sapphires are on trend because of their unique and beautiful parti and teal colours. Jewellery consumers worldwide are looking for something special, and this has resulted in an increasing demand for unique and special gemstones especially those that are ethically mined and Australian-sourced,” Der Bedrossian said.
As ethical mining and sourcing have become a hot topic at both the supplier and consumer levels, FURA Gems' own corporate social responsibility practices have remained consistent throughout its mining operations."The Australian government recognises our pro-environmental mining operations that assist vegetation and ecological restoration immediately after mining is done. We do this by backfilling the open pit mines with the topsoil unearthed from a pit nearby. This saves the mine from re-growing topsoil naturally, which takes millions of years to form," Shetty explained. "As a result of prompt refilling, vegetation grows within months and the area is back to its former shape as FURA continues mining and refilling simultaneously."
Moreover, Shetty said he aims to create a more vibrant community by supporting local artisanal miners with activities such as fossicking to boost tourism, amd participating in the local Gemfest and lapidary school in order to revive interest in sapphire mining.
"In the 1980s, Australia was responsible for nine-tenths of global sapphire production. It mined 30 million carats annually, which earned US$90–100 million. Unfortunately, the miners were not in a position to create an organised, worldwide market for Australian sapphires. "He said there was no development strategy in the 80s which meant that Australia sapphires competed against gemstones from Madagascar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China and Cambodia and high-quality Australian stones were being rebranded as Ceylon and Madagascan to attract premiums." Within a few years, Australian mines had to close operations," he said.
FURA acquired the local mines in 2020 and has assured a minimum mine-life of 15 years based on geological studies which will be expanded further by adding more exploration areas. FURA’s production plans for 2022 include 10 million carats of Australian sapphires, 8 million carats of Mozambican rubies and 400,000 carats of Colombian emeralds. It will continue its goal of stable supply to the market with one public auction tender of Australian sapphires every four months.